In military win, U.S. may be planting seeds of political defeat

Death, destruction works against image as liberator, Iraqi professor says

War in Iraq

April 07, 2003|By John Daniszewski | John Daniszewski,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BAGHDAD, Iraq - With missiles whistling overhead and a U.S. warplane flying so low outside that it seemed it would touch the minaret of the neighborhood mosque, the political scientist leaned back heavily yesterday and said such force could come back to haunt the United States.

"The blood, destruction, continuous bombing," said Wamid Nadmi, who dubs himself part of the "patriotic opposition" to Saddam Hussein's regime, "these will be remembered by the Iraqis and will make it very, very difficult for the Americans to rule directly or indirectly."

The future of Iraq seemed an appropriate question to ponder on a day when the prospect of a U.S.-British military victory seemed increasingly clear. Marines had joined their Army compatriots on the outskirts of Baghdad, and Hussein himself had issued a statement suggesting that the Iraqi army is in disarray.

Nevertheless, the British-educated Nadmi warned, the United States should not expect an easy political victory in Iraq if and when the war is won.

A member of the faculty of Baghdad University, Nadmi is one of the few independent critics of the government who has managed to work inside Hussein's Iraq. Over the years, he has made carefully balanced, principled appeals for greater democratization while couching them in respectful terms, which has allowed him to retain his position and avoid suppression.

Although he is sympathetic to the goal of bringing democracy to Iraq, after 18 days of war and mounting casualties, he said, he believes that the U.S. administration is losing the battle to be viewed as "liberators."

Nadmi lives in a comfortable two-story house in one of Baghdad's northern districts with his wife, two daughters and two sons, relatively far from the ground battles of recent days. But even here the war has touched them.

Since March 20, many of the windows of their house have been shattered by nearby explosions. To keep out the dust and sand that blows through this city constantly, they've had to put up plastic sheets.

And the noise has been terrifying, Nadmi said. During the course of an hourlong interview, at least four missiles flew over the house and exploded a short distance away, violently shaking the house.

"My daughters were horrified," he said. "I even had to send one daughter out of Baghdad. I don't think there is anywhere in Iraq where it is safe enough to think rationally."

Asked to sketch his view of how Iraq might emerge after the war, Nadmi - who before the conflict began complained that "the U.S. and Britain are intent on aggression and invasion" - was pessimistic about the chances of a smooth U.S. administration.

In contrast to other periods of Iraq's history, he said, "I don't think there is a great deal of animosity toward the Iraqi leadership now." Rather, he said, referring to the U.S. and British leaders, "a great deal of hatred is being expressed now" against President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The U.S. administration lacks credibility among many Iraqis when it discusses the war, he said.

They hear U.S. radio broadcasts and feel that some of the charges laid at the feet of the regime - such as reports that civilians are being marched out in front of Iraqi soldiers as human shields - are untrue and simply crude propaganda, he said.

Iraqi propaganda has been bad, too, he said. "I would like Iraqi radio and television to give out more actual information about the situation in Baghdad," he said. "But it is mostly just pro-Saddam songs."

Nadmi said that in contrast to 1991, when their country had invaded and occupied Kuwait, many Iraqis still are not convinced there was any reason for the United States to attack them this time. In addition, he said, many believe Hussein bent over backward to try to avoid the war, even making humiliating concessions to accommodate the United Nations resolution on weapons inspections.

Hussein also has gotten points for displaying courage, he suggested, such as when Iraqi television broadcast scenes of him touring neighborhoods (U.S. officials are not convinced that it was him and not a body double) at a time when the American forces have made no secret of their desire to kill him with a missile strike.

All this has led to a degree of loyalty to the government and an ambivalence toward the U.S.-led invasion that many people familiar with Iraq may have found surprising, he said.

It happened even in his own family, he said, pointing to an incident involving his 12-year-old. "My son came out yesterday, and then he ran into the house with tears in his eyes because he thought Baghdad was invaded and the country is collapsing."

And when government troops have marched through the city, he said, "people were shouting to the army and supporting the army."

"The U.S.-British alliance has lost the war politically," he concluded, "even if they come to a successful military conclusion."

John Daniszewski is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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